Recently I had this visceral, almost unexplainable urge, to get away from a lot of things and reconnect with a distant past that I feel has almost disappeared. I flew to Milan to meet an 82 year old great uncle, who has been living there for over forty years. Walking out of the arrivals door I met I found kindly old man in a sports coat waiting for me. He was wearing a hat with the side perched lopsided over his ear, and a velvet scarf tied around his neck and tucked regally underneath his shirt - an amazing person who I was very fortunate to meet and sit down with. He was genuinely curious about my sudden decision to drop by and visit him, and I said that all I wanted was for him to tell me stories. It was a desire that was very human, almost childish, and there was something very comforting about acknowledging that. To me, it is fascinating to hear about things that happened before I existed, and to have a picture of that painted in my mind by the words of somebody who had actually been there.
By the end of the Second World War, my great uncle told me, there was virtually no petrol to be had anywhere in Damascus. No buses or cars ran, and it was very difficult to get around. It was at that time that my great grandfather Nazmi decided to construct a cane cart that could seat about nine people and have it drawn by one horse. He used to charge people a franc for the journey from the Rabweh all the way to Victoria bridge, and eventually people in Damascus started to call it the "Igry Igry" cart, Egyptian colloquial for "Run, Run!". Other people imitated him, but they always had to use two horses instead of one, and that was because they hadn't used cane to build the cart. As a result, their carts were heavier, so they needed the extra horse to get the same people, and obviously that meant they didn't get the same profit. A good thing for him while it lasted.